Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack by John Williams (1980)
Get it: If you like the classic themes of the Star Wars Universe with the focus on the galactic battle and romantic themes
Don’t get it: If you like the more subtle cues from the previous film
We are getting closer to the end of our run of Star Wars soundtrack reviews, which can only mean we are even closer to the release of the soundtrack to The Force Awakens. For now, however, we have this one to look at. First, a little bit of context. This was the first time anyone returned to the Star Wars Universe. The last, and only, time anyone had been there was for the first film, A New Hope. Some things were similar, such as the main theme – but other elements were completely new. If you picture a Star Destroyer flying in space, what do you hear? Most likely, it’s “The Imperial March/Darth Vader’s Theme.” This film is the first time that sound had been heard.
“Yoda’s Theme,” also so iconic, was introduced in this film along with the character himself. Already, we have two brand-new themes introduced in this film, this soundtrack, that have become among of the most iconic cues in film history. But what makes this soundtrack, other than the specific character themes, different from the movie before it? To put it simply, the overall tone has a completely different approach. In A New Hope, a large part of the score was based in isolation with glimpses of coming events here and there. Then, as the story progresses and the character’s destinies become more evident, the music increases to a more rapid and adventurous pace to match that of the film. For The Empire Strikes Back, there isn’t that sense of loneliness or isolation anymore. It is less about growth, although there is some of that as well, and more about the galactic battle and a bit of romance. Although that describes the movie, it also describes the score.
Going back to the two new themes for this score, they perfectly embody their intended characters. For “Yoda’s Theme,” it is half quirky and playful, but the other half is subtly heroic and full of respect. This matches the character Yoda, as represented in this film. “The Imperial March,” or as it’s also known, “Darth Vader’s Theme,” is rooted in power. It feels unstoppable and untamed – just like the character.
Ultimately, this soundtrack took a step forward in the evolution of the Star Wars music following the first film. Next in the timeline will be a review of Return of the Jedi, which will then be followed by The Force Awakens this December. Until then, check out the clip below of “Yoda’s Theme” from The Empire Strikes Back.